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3 comics created by military veterans that help us understand war.

Cartoonists and veterans are working together to heal the wounds of war, and it's beautiful.

3 comics created by military veterans that help us understand war.

The tiny town of White River Junction, Vermont, is home to two big institutions: the White River Junction VA Medical Center and the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Historically, the veterans and cartoonists haven’t had much to do with each other. But a few years ago, James Sturm, the director of the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS), decided that they should start.

So he brought his paper and pencils to the rec room at the VA and asked the veterans to tell him their stories.


Sturm is part of a larger movement called graphic medicine, the idea that comics have a universal language of signs and symbols that can help patients more effectively communicate their stories.

He believes sharing stories can both heal patients and create a better health care system.

During his time at the VA, Sturm discovered that comics are a powerful medium for working with post-traumatic stress disorder, in particular.

“PTSD is the inability to integrate past and present, which has a devastating effect on the future,” Sturm said. But comics help people literally visualize time, so they can help veterans break down complex histories into manageable chunks.

“Each panel is a discrete unit of time,” he elaborates. “And when you put 8, 9, 10 panels on a page, you’re integrating the past, present, and future into a ... whole.”

Last fall, Sturm gathered a group of cartooning students and veterans and encouraged them to collaborate on a volume of oral histories.

“When I Returned” is the resulting book, and it visually demonstrates the disorienting experience of PTSD, as well as the ways the past and the present collide in every moment.

All images via James Sturm, used with permission.

In the opening story, cartoonist Jeff Lok shows us in six simple panels how PTSD works:

While driving in his car, Vince moves back and forth between New England and Iraq, the past and present compressing together. We travel with him from a dusty New Hampshire road to a morgue in Iraq.

Although cartoonist and veteran Mike Rodriguez hasn’t been diagnosed with PTSD, he also lives with the daily reminders of his time in Iraq.

His story is in the book, too:

“I’ll always remember when I got ambushed for like three hours,” he said. ”I was stuck in this position where I had to play dead. ... You don’t ever forget that. It’s part of you.”

In his comic, which he drew himself, images of Fallujah are the constant backdrop to his everyday life in New Hampshire. They linger in the background as he socializes, works as a librarian, and draws at his drafting table.

Every panel communicates the disorientation of moving from a military to a civilian life.

The heart of the book is “Kevin’s Story,” a deeply intimate account of a man’s sexual assault and recovery.

Kevin’s trauma occurred off the battlefield, after he returned from Germany to small-town New Hampshire. On New Year’s Eve 1981, he was raped by a group of strangers in a snowy field. He went home, burned his clothes, and kept his story a secret for the next three decades.

“I come from an old-school family in northern New Hampshire,” he explained. “And we’re the kind where you suck it up and deal with it, and I did it for 32 years.” But then his secret started literally making him sick.

For these men, comics were a powerful part of their healing processes.

Kevin's therapist was using a technique called prolonged exposure therapy, in which he tells his story over and over again to become desensitized to it. And even though he’d told it to her dozens of times, until he sat down with comic students J.D. Lunt and Kelly Swann, he’d never told anybody else.

“I was watching them and looking at their eyes and wondering how they were going to tell [my] story,” he remembered. “I get really worried about what people are going to think and what they’re going to say. But the feedback and response has been unreal. Nobody looks down on me, nobody thinks any different about me, people are saying how proud they are that I shared my story.”

It’s a profound relief for him that his story is out there and he can’t go back into hiding. “It gets lighter and easier all the time,” he says.

Chaplain and cartoonist Kurt F. Shaffert is volunteering at the White River Junction VA and practicing what he calls process cartooning, a system he developed during his eight years working at the Connecticut VA.

During his 15-minute visits with patients, he uses stick figures to help them access what's on their mind quickly and effectively. He finds that when he asks veterans to narrate stick figures, they can “express the inexpressible.”

Comics, Shaffert believes, are the language we need when we talk about war experiences because they’re physical and visual and funny and tragic and profound all at the same time.

“Extraordinary experiences require extraordinary language,” he said.

“Anybody who’s experienced PTSD has experienced things that are outside of everyday experience. ... In order to be able to process events that are traumatic, you need to find ... a form of communication that deals with the immature, the impolite, the gross, the grotesque, the obnoxious, the obscene."

Although researchers haven’t yet studied the effectiveness of comics for treating PTSD, it’s similar to other methods like art therapy and narrative therapy, which are already being used successfully with veterans.

Clinicians and staff members at the White River Junction VA are enthusiastic about this project and excited about future collaborations and the healing potential of cartooning. They hope other VA centers will start using comics for good, too.

Image via Kurt Shaffert.

Maybe starting to heal can be as simple as drawing a stick figure in a hospital room on an ordinary white piece of paper.

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We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

This sweet story is brought to you by Sumo Citrus®. This oversized mandarin is celebrated for its incredible taste and distinct looks. Sumo Citrus is super-sweet, enormous, easy-to-peel, seedless, and juicy without the mess. Fans of the fruit are obsessive, stocking up from January to April when Sumo Citrus is in stores. To learn more, visit sumocitrus.com and @sumocitrus.

The Hill/Twitter

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True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

This sweet story is brought to you by Sumo Citrus®. This oversized mandarin is celebrated for its incredible taste and distinct looks. Sumo Citrus is super-sweet, enormous, easy-to-peel, seedless, and juicy without the mess. Fans of the fruit are obsessive, stocking up from January to April when Sumo Citrus is in stores. To learn more, visit sumocitrus.com and @sumocitrus.

via wakaflockafloccar / TikTok

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